There are some things God cannot do. He cannot lie (Titus 1:2), he cannot be tempted by evil (James 1:13), and he cannot do what is logically contradictory or impossible (e.g. make a ‘square circle’). In order to bring about the greatest state of goodness in the world, the Lord had to create some specific goods whose existence necessarily entails the possibility of certain evils.
Human beings were designed with the ability to think and the freedom to choose. Although we often take this for granted, anyone who has ever been a slave or a prisoner will tell you that one of the most precious commodities a person can have is freedom. Being a God of love, he does not force us to act against our wills, but grants us freedom.
The blessing of freedom involves choice, and choice includes not only the possibility of making good decisions but also bad ones. It is impossible for God to have made man a free moral agent and yet take away his capability of making wrong choices. Freedom without choice is a logical contradiction. Now the Lord has given us an instruction manual to guide us in the right direction (2 Tim. 3:16-17), but when people disregard divine directives and make bad decisions, pain and suffering often result. It is man, not God, who has created slavery, whips, bombs, death camps, liquor, pornography, pollution, environmental destruction, and so on. Even natural calamities are ultimately linked to human sin.1 The gift of freedom, when it is misused, accounts for the majority of human misery.
While the God of the Bible is sovereign (Isa. 46:9-10; Dan. 4:35; Psa. 115:3; 1 Tim. 6:15), this does not mean he can do all things, as noted above (i.e., allow freedom that is not freedom). Neither does it mean he always gets what he wants, e.g., desiring all to be saved, though not all are willing to accept his conditions. God’s grace is available to everyone (Titus 2:11) because he desires all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) and is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9). Nevertheless, a voluntary, free-will response (obedient faith) to the Lord’s gracious offer is required (cf. Matt. 7:21; 23:37; Acts 7:51; Rom. 6:16-18; etc.).
Most people consider something good if it brings pleasure and bad if it causes pain, but this is shallow and short-sighted. The imperfections of this world serve a purpose in allowing individuals to grow and develop into mature, responsible beings in a way that would otherwise not be possible. “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).2 The Lord’s desire for his creatures seems to be, not the suffering itself, but the positive and beneficial effects.
Pain, loss, and hardship also help to create an acknowledgment of human weakness and a need for God in one’s life. Pride and arrogance are self-destructive traits (Prov. 16:18), but suffering has a way of helping us put things in perspective. It is said that when a man is flat on his back, the only direction he can look is up. “My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psa. 73:26). Moreover, the suffering we see in the lives of others provides opportunities for compassion and service.
Life in this physical world is a brief and necessary preparation for eternity. The trials we face help us to avoid complacency and to look forward to that place where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). More than a perfect world, the Lord desires a loving relationship with his creation. Out of suffering, pain, hardship, and loss God can and will accomplish his good purpose (Rom. 8:28-39).
--Kevin L. Moore
--Kevin L. Moore
1 See Wayne Jackson’s “Why Do Natural Disasters Happen?” <link>, where he observes: “No wickedness, no Flood. No Flood, no change of earth’s environment. No change of earth’s environment, no geological disasters. Thus, no wickedness, no geological disasters.”
2 All scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.
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